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Sabiqun

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Sābiqūn, or Forerunners (Arabic: السابقون), is a Qur'anic term referring to pioneers in good actions and the obedience of God. There is a disagreement as to the instances of "Sabiqun". Some exegetes of the Qur'an take it to refer to pre-Islamic people, and others take it to refer to Muslims in the early years of the Islamic period.

In Shiite hadiths, Forerunners are said to consist in prophets (a), Imam Ali (a), Imam al-Hasan (a), Imam al-Husayn (a), some companions, and prominent companions of Shiite Imams, and even all Shi'as.

Etymology and Meaning

"Sabiqun" is the plural masculine form of the agent noun derived from the infinitive, "sabq", which means to have precedence or be prior.

In the Qur'an

"Sabq" and its cognates have been used thirty seven times in the Qur'an, in eight of which its agent noun has been used. In all of these cases, it means to have precedence.

According to Qur'anic verses, the Forerunners are characterized analogously to true believers. For example, according to the Qur'an 23:57-61, the Forerunners, that is, Forerunners in good actions, are characterized as being apprehensive from fear of God, believing in God's signs, not associating anything with God, donating what they have, being concerned with returning to God.

The Place of the Forerunners

Verses that have given rise to remarkable discussions about the meaning of "Sabiqun" are verse ten and eleven of the Qur'an 56, in which the Forerunners are mentioned along with "people of the right hand" and "people of the left hand":

In this verse, the Forerunners are said to be of a higher degree than people of the right hand and people of the left hand. According to the following verses (12-14), they will be in the Heaven, some of them are from early people and others are from later people.

Early Forerunners

Another issue about the notion is the interpretation of "al-Sabiqun al-Awwalun" (Early Forerunners) used in the Qur'an to refer to early Migrants (Muhajirun) and the Helpers (Ansar) to whom and to whose followers God has promised His happiness, the Heaven, and their self-satisfaction. There are different views as to who Early Forerunners are, including:

  • Those who converted to Islam before Hijra and those who migrated before the Battle of Badr
  • Those who were martyred in the early years of Islam
  • Those who donated their money and fought before the Conquest of Mecca or Hudaybiyya in comparison to those who donated and fought afterwards
  • Those who migrated before the Battle of Badr in comparison to those who converted to Islam after the Battle of Tabuk and followed the practice of their Muslim predecessors and went under a great deal of hardship

It includes everyone who tries to be the first in converting to Islam from the period of the emergence of Islam to the resurrection.

Being one of the "Sabiqun" was an important feature in Islam, which played a significant role in the determination of the Prophet's (s) successor after his demise.

Things in Which Sabiqun are Pioneers

According to Qur'anic exegeses, things in which Sabiqun are pioneers include the following:

  • Obedience of God
  • Doing things to which God has called and to which God consents
  • Doing good deeds
  • Moral virtues and praiseworthy characteristics

Attributes of Sabiqun in the Qur'an and its Exegeses

Attributes of Sabiqun as appearing in the Qur'an and its exegeses include the following:

  • Persistence on good deeds
  • Quenching personal desires
  • Their inner selves being better than their appearances
  • Being role-models for others
  • Having the highest degree of happiness
  • Approximation to God
  • Being blessed with different blessings in the Heaven
  • Drinking from "Tasnim", which is the sweetest drink in the Heaven
  • Entering the Heaven without reckoning

In Shiite Sources

In addition to the above, Shiite sources suggest that Sabiqun are prophets (a) and divine friends, in whom God has blown five spirits (ruh):

  • Holy Spirit (Ruh al-qudus), with which they know things,
  • The spirit of faith, with which they fear God,
  • The spirit of strength, with which they are able to obey God,
  • The spirit of desire, with which they desire to obey God and despise sins,
  • And the flowing spirit, with which they communicate with ordinary people.

Instances

The majority of Muslims interpret the Early Forerunners as people before the emergence of Islam and Later Sabiqun as the Islamic Umma.

There is a controversy as to how to reconcile the above account with a hadith quoted by Abu Hurayra. According to this hadith, when verses thirteen and fourteen of the Qur'an 56 were revealed, Muslims were saddened that forerunners of earlier peoples was much greater than that of the Islamic peoples. Thus, verses thirty nine and forty of the sura were revealed:

And the Prophet (s) told his companions that they constituted two-third, if not half, of people in the Heaven, and they share their predecessors in the other half as well.

According to al-Zamakhshari, although there are a few Muslim forerunners and a lot more forerunners from earlier peoples, God bestowed a mercy to Muslims and gave them things that He had not given to others. He gave the Prophet (s) the power to intercede, as a result of which the number of saviors, or people of the right hand, is great.

According to others, in the above verse, "early people" might refer to people in the early years of the emergence of Islam, and "later peoples" refers to later Muslims in the subsequent periods.

Ali (a) and His Shi'as

There are other hadiths in which instances of "al-Sabiqun" are more specifically mentioned. For example, there is a hadith from Ibn Abbas asking the Prophet (s) about the meaning of"al-Sabiqun al-Sabiqun", where the Prophet (s) replied, "Gabriel told me that they are Ali and his Shi'as who enter the Heaven sooner than others."

In the interpretation of the verse ten of the Qur'an 56, Ibn Mardawayh al-Isfahani has quoted Ibn Abbas as saying that "al-Sabiqun al-Sabiqun" was revealed about Ezekiel (the Believer of Pharaoh's People), Habib al-Najjar (whose story is retold in the Qur'an 36), and Ali b. Abi Talib (a), each of whom was a pioneer among his peoples, and the most superior among these is Ali (a).

According to Shiite hadiths, instances of Sabiqun are said to include, in addition to prophets (a), Imam Ali (a), Imam al-Hasan (a), and Imam al-Husayn (a), certain prominent companions of the Prophet (s), such as Khadija (a), Sumayya and her son Ammar b. Yasir, Salman al-Farsi, Miqdad, Abu Dhar, and Bilal, as well as certain companions of Imams (a), such as Zurara b. A'yan, Abu Basir al-Muradi, Muhammad b. Muslim, and Burayd b. Mu'awiya al-Ijli.

According to another hadith, transmitted by Muhammad b. Sinan from Dawud b. Kathir from Imam al-Sadiq (a), the verse ten of the Qur'an 56 is about the eternal creation of creatures, and it is said that the Prophet (s) and early Imams were the first people who entered a fire with which God tested people, and then Shi'as entered the fire, and thus they are Forerunners.

References

  • The material for this article is mainly taken from سابقون in Farsi WikiShia.